WASHINGTON — A report released in June by the Department of Justice's Inspector General, Glenn Fine, contained what may have been be the first references of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff's strong ties to White House Political Director Ken Mehlman, but it was only today that the extent of that relationship was revealed.
Melhman is now the Chairman of the Republican National Committee.
The June report said that Abramoff was receiving information about the U.S. territories in the Pacific -- Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas -- directly from White House information "recommended" to be given to Abramoff by Mehlman. Both territories were clients of Abramoff lobbying firm.
The IG report says White House political official Leonard Rodriguez told investigators he had "kept Abramoff aware of information relevant to Guam ... at the behest of Ken Mehlman,” the White House Political Director, who “recommended or suggested that I reach out to make Jack
aware of issues related to Guam."
But the House Government Reform Committee report released today says Abramoff and his team reached out themselves to the White House Office of Political Affairs some 17 times. Six times, Abramoff’s team had direct contact with Mehlman.
The report says, on Oct. 9, 2002, Abramoff e-mailed Mehlman to seek an endorsement from President Bush for Republican candidates running in Guam.
Within two weeks, Susan Ralston, an aide to Karl Rove, e-mailed Abramoff: "Ken asked me to let you know that he has the quote to be approved for your Guam candidates."
Abramoff also vigorously lobbied the White House to back Benigne Fitial, a garment plant operator and newspaper publisher who was running for governor in the Northern Marianas under the banner of a third party known as the "Covenant Party."
The Marianas, famous for their low-paying garment factories, hired Abramoff to keep the islands' workers exempt from U.S. laws like the minimum wage. In the e-mail in May, Abramoff writes: "I met with Rove tonight. They are not going to allow (Juan) Babauta to have his way and they are looking forward to your arrival."
The House report says an entry in an electronic calendar indicates that the event probably occurred at a "Tax Policy Dinner" at Grover Norquist's home. Abramoff received an e-mail on Oct. 31, 2001, from Ralston, stating the White House would not endorse the GOP candidate:
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"You win :). KR said no endorsement."
Abramoff urged White House officials, including Rove and Mehlman, to intervene to remove a State Department employee, Allen Stayman, who advocated labor reforms and opposed their efforts in the Marianas.
Todd Boulanger, who worked for Abramoff wrote, "It will be a great day when Stayman is whacked."
Tony Rudy, a former aide to Tom DeLay, who also worked for Abramoff, said in an e-mail exchange released by the committee, "Mehlman said he would get him fired." Stayman was eventually let go from his State Department post.
Despite Abramoff's lobbying, Republican candidate Juan Babauta was elected Governor of the Commonwealth in 2001. After the election, the Commonwealth terminated their relationship with Abramoff as a lobbyist. But in 2006 Fitial became governor and wrote a letter on behalf of Abramoff to the Miami judge who would sentence him to 70 months in jail in the SunCruz casino scandal which Abramoff pleaded guilty to defrauding investors.
Fitial wrote, Abramoff was a "personal friend and political champion" of the "beleaguered" Pacific islands. "He was a natural crusader and political activist, with great sympathy for our un- represented Commonwealth," the governor wrote on official stationary.
The lobbying of Mehlman described in the House documents also included a discussion between Abramoff and Mehlman at a White House reception regarding political appointments. And there was a meeting with Rudy when they discussed efforts to secure federal funds for the Mississippi
band of the Choctaw Indians, an Abramoff client. After that meeting with Mehlman, Rudy wrote Abramoff: "Mehlman said he would 'take care of this.' He was a rock star."
Rock star or not, Abramoff offered Mehlman tickets to a U2 concert on June 15, 2001. The documents don't say whether Mehlman attended, or if he did, whether he paid for his own tickets.
Mehlman first started working with Rove in the Bush campaign in 1999 and later managed Bush's re-election in 2004. He told Newsweek recently, "We've learned a lot from each other--from what we've done right and what we've done wrong," he said.
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